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No extension of travel ban on âvariantâ countries
Starting Feb. 1, foreigners arriving in the Philippines would be required to make reservations for at least seven days in any accredited quarantine hotel or facility as part of additional guidelines for stemming the spread of COVID-19.
Edfd Gumban

No extension of travel ban on ‘variant’ countries

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - January 30, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The pandemic has affected 519,575 people in the country as of Thursday, based on data from the Department of Health. CAR covers the provinces of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Baguio, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.

Starting Feb. 1, foreigners arriving in the Philippines would be required to make reservations for at least seven days in any accredited quarantine hotel or facility as part of additional guidelines for stemming the spread of COVID-19.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. yesterday said the arriving foreigners would be subjected to swab testing for SARS-CoV-2 on the sixth day from date of arrival.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has set the conditions as the government’s travel restrictions involving 36 countries with recorded new COVID-19 variants lapse tomorrow. The restrictions will no longer be extended.

Those allowed to enter under certain conditions must complete a 14-day quarantine, Roque said.

The IATF has ruled that arriving foreign nationals should have valid and existing visas at the time of entry, except for those qualified under the Balikbayan program under Republic Act No. 6768 or the Act Instituting the Balikbayan Program.

“These foreign nationals should also have a pre-booked accommodation for at least seven nights in an accredited quarantine hotel or facility. They shall also be subject to COVID-19 testing at the quarantine hotel or facility on the sixth day from the date of their arrival,” Roque said.

He added the entry of these foreigners would be subject to the maximum capacity of ports for inbound passengers on the date of entry.

The Bureau of Immigration has been directed to formulate the necessary guidelines.

Unless covered by the exemptions, Roque said all foreign nationals, including those holding tourist visas, are still prohibited from entering the country until further notice.

“All foreign nationals who are not allowed entry to the Philippines as stated by previous orders, including those holding tourist visas, are still prohibited to enter the country. Those who are allowed still need to complete their 14-day quarantine,” he said.

Based on a previous memo, foreign nationals from 36 countries under restriction who have not traveled outside their countries within the last 14 days may be allowed to enter the Philippines.

Under the current guidelines, those allowed to enter the Philippines include accredited foreign diplomats and personnel of accredited international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Also allowed are foreign dignitaries and those involved in medical and emergency cases including their medical escorts.

Balikbayan, foreign spouses and minor children of Filipinos, children with special needs of Filipinos, foreign parents of minor Filipinos, and foreign parents of Filipino citizens with special needs – regardless of age – shall be allowed entry.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said five more Filipinos abroad have died of COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 950. The DFA also logged 33 new cases and 26 new recoveries.

There were 13,938 Filipino overseas who contracted COVID-19, while 8,919 have recovered. A total of 4,069 Filipinos are undergoing treatment, the DFA said.

DOT happy

The Department of Tourism (DOT) said it welcomed the easing of travel restrictions.

“We are happy that the borders are open again to our balikbayans whose travel plans to rejoin their families in the country starting Dec. 07, 2020 were curtailed with the travel ban on passengers from the new COVID variant countries. Now, they can replan their visits, notably as more local destinations have reopened,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.

The entry of balikbayans including their foreign spouses and children was allowed earlier in December. However, this was halted in the latter part of the month following the detection of new COVID-19 variant in several countries.

“As the travel ban on passengers coming from countries with the new strain is lifted, we continue to advocate caution and strict adherence to the protocols and guidelines to minimize or mitigate the possible transmission of the virus,” Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III told The STAR.

“As a whole, we welcome this development but we still need to exercise discipline and compliance,” he added.

IATF resolution 97 also directs the DOT to look into the rates of quarantine hotels.

“Ever since the beginning, the list of participating DOT-accredited accommodation establishments (AEs) reflects the indicative rates so that the passenger can manage his budget. Now even so, to consider a minimum seven or maximum 14 day-quarantine period, we ask hotels to give good rates to help lessen the burden,” Puyat said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday urged the OCTA Research Group to refrain from immediately linking the surge in COVID-19 cases in Cebu province to the presence of the UK variant cases in the country.

While the number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu and in other parts of the country is on the rise, “it is too early” to make assumptions on why this is happening or link it to the UK variant, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

“We are not sure about this. This might cause panic among people… Let us try to reserve this announcement that it is because of the new variant while there is no evidence yet,” she added.

According to Vergeire, the National Task Force on COVID-19 had already been notified of the situation in Cebu and relevant instructions had been issued to concerned local government units (LGUs).

She said LGUs are authorized to do “localized lockdowns” in areas deemed as sources of infection.

Vergeire added that to contain cases in Cebu, residents have to strictly observe health protocols.

She also underscored the need for authorities to “secure borders” to make sure that inbound travelers observe strict quarantine and testing.

Last Thursday, OCTA sounded the alarm over increasing cases in Cebu, saying the UK variant may have contributed to the situation. – Catherine Talavera, Sheila Crisostomo, Helen Flores

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